“In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
For a minister, a sabbatical is a time to rest in order that one may gather strength for the work of ministry. In other words, a sabbatical is a strategic retreat. A minister engages in a season of rest not in order to abandon the work God has given him, but in order to refresh his own soul so that he may return to the work with renewed strength and vigor.
For we need strength from above if we are to do the work of the ministry. On our own, we lack the strength (2 Corinthians 2:16). That is why we always need to pray, “Strengthen the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90:17). And that is why we need to have times of refreshing for our own souls. If we are burned out and stressed out, how can we minister to others?
Jesus himself took time out from ministering to the crowds in order to be alone and to rest and refresh his soul.
Thus, we read in Mark 1:35, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, he went out and departed to a solitary place; and there he prayed.”
In Mark 6:31 we read, “And he said to them [his apostles], Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while. For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.”
But we must make sure that we make good use of this season of rest. We must make sure that the time is well-spent in gathering spiritual strength for the work we have to do when we return to it.
How do we that? By making use of this time of rest to find peace in our hearts, and renew our trust and confidence in God. The formula here is quietness plus confidence equals strength.
The work of the ministry – just like any other work – has its own stressors and troubles that eat away at our peace and, in the process, weaken us. If there are fears and worries that have ensconced themselves in our hearts, a sabbatical is a good time to face these fears and worries and dissolve them with the peace of Christ.
Freed from the daily grind of ministry, we have more time to cultivate a deeper relationship and fellowship with Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Whatever it is that troubles you, the Lord has promised, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Just like all believers, a minister must live by faith. But ministers, being human like the rest of us, are also assailed by doubts and temptations. They too have burdens to carry, and they too sometimes wonder where is God when they need him the most. It is one thing to know in one’s head that God will never leave you and will never forsake you. It is another thing to deal with the disappointment you feel in your heart when it seems God has let you down. Doing so is difficult, regardless of the number of Bible verses you’ve memorized!
That’s why we need times of rest in order that we may renew our confidence and hope in God.
Just like Elijah. After experiencing a great victory at Mount Carmel against the 450 prophets of Baal, he fled because of the threats of a woman (Jezebel)! He was afraid, discouraged, and depressed, so much so that he wanted to die.
We read in 1 Kings 19:4-8, “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tee. And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.’ So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.”
Elijah rested and slept, but he also arose and ate. And if I may be allowed to interpret this figuratively, the lesson we can learn from this incident in Elijah’s life is that we must make good use of this season of rest to strengthen our faith by nourishing our souls with God’s Word. Of course, a minister is always studying God’s Word. But during a sabbatical we meditate on God’s Word not for the sake of preaching to others but to nourish our own souls.
For God’s Word is the food that strengthens faith. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4) And “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
So there you have it. Make use of this season of rest to find peace in Christ, especially through prayer, and to renew your faith through feeding on God’s Word. In so doing, you shall be gathering strength for the work you are called to do when you return to it. During a sabbatical we are called off from the busyness of working *for* the Master in order that we might spend more time *with* the Master.
“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
(A devotional message given during the Ikthus East Family Retreat at Cabacungan, Negros Occidental on March 30, 2018)